The Secret World of Pain

The Secret World of Pain

2011, Science  -   26 Comments
Ratings: 7.82/10 from 33 users.

The Secret World of PainFor most of us, pain as a concept is something that we don’t spare a second thought: you stub your toe; it hurts for a bit, then it subsides. But for scientists, the experience of pain makes for fascinating study and an understanding of it can potentially unlock new methods of treatment and pain relief.

Horizon reveals the latest research into pain and the breakthroughs that have been made, through studies on everyone from a woman in London who has felt no pain in her entire life, to a man in the US who cut off his own arm to survive, after it became lodged in a furnace.

Geneticist Dr. John Woods travels the world in search of people who feel pain in strange ways or don’t feel pain at all and believes that the secret of pain lies in our DNA. Indeed, after two years of studying the DNA of three generations of an Italian family who don’t feel extremes of temperature, he discovers the family share a mutation in their genes which blocks the pathway to certain types of pain and thus names the syndrome after them.

Similarly, a woman in London who feels no pain at all (she recalls an early experience where her mother, upon smelling burning flesh, found her kneeling on a radiator and had to tear her off by the skin) describes her relief at finally being able to explain her condition.

Meanwhile, we learn about the significance of early life experiences and their importance in developing our pain pathways. An experiment on the brain activity of premature babies (who have therefore undergone intensive care treatment) compared with full term babies demonstrates a remarkable difference in brain activity, suggesting the premature babies have an increased sensitivity to pain.

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4 years ago

doctor fix Rebecca problem, nice placebo effect

6 years ago

I think, all these beautiful woman need a lover for some relief.

Fairly armless
6 years ago

@ Crash Bay - You're talking about a dark place I've visited many times, I have chronic nerve pain every second of every day since 1995, from my left ear to my fingertips because 5 nerves were ripped out of my spine, paralysing my arm. After a while the pills don't work the same as they used to - if they help at all. The thing that's helped me the most was making myself get out there and find distraction. Because I was out and about meeting people I met a great woman who has given me reasons to not think about those dark things any more. The hardest step was making the move from my settee when I felt SO miserable but it turned out to be a huge investment. Maybe your distraction will be something entirely different, a hobby, club or circle of friends. And if you think I was just lucky consider the thing about making our own luck is maybe true. Don't give up, there is always hope.

9 years ago

Another disappointing documentary from BBC. This institution is a shadow of its former self.

This feel-good film explores in a touchy-feely manner the pain experiences of people at the extreme outliers of the condition: unable to feel pain; affected by early-childhood experiences of pain; forced to carry out self-amputation in a life-and-death emergency; afflicted by phantom pain.

According to the author, pain is utterly subjective and terribly complex, involving emotional pathways and other new-age mumbo jumbo. Perhaps if the author included a pinched-nerve victim, someone similar who is more representative of the 99.9 percent who deal with physical discomfort with an objective source, the conclusion would not have been so tidy: Pain, this film suggests, us all in your head and can be controlled by what boils down to wishful thinking.

Thus does this anecdotal progression of peculiar pain stories trivialize the condition and patronize the sufferers -- the multitude whose pain is real and because it is real cannot be wished away.

Crash Bay
10 years ago

I'm 43. I had my first back surgery in 1994. I've had my back fused, etc. Anything to ill the pain. I'm now at the point where I just want to end it all. And the funny thing is, the only thing that stops me is my mother, and that my dog will be alone and no doubt cry for weeks after I'm gone.
I'm sick of being in pain. ....And I just don't have the energy anymore to lookfor a cure. ........I feel sorry for all of you who've felt the same shame, depression and indignity that comes with chronic pain.

Susan Kay
12 years ago

I, too, have been suffering from severe chronic neurogenic pain for some years now. And now I am on the precipice of undertaking a form of therapy called "Spinal Cord Stimulation" made by Medtronic Co., via insertion of a flexible lead implant attached directly into the spinal cord canal. Attached to a tiny internal electrical source, it literally 'zaps' the pain sensation electrically until it stunningly overwhelms the pain with a dull numbing sensation - no drugs, no treatments, no more surgeries! I am ecstatic about the possibility of not having to depend on narcotics or opiates anymore. If it buys me a year with at least 50% pain relief I will be over the moon. Imagine the prospect of having your life handed back to you whole after intense and crippling pain for decades. It's mind-boggeling, and yes, I am working with a psychiatrist to help me learn to cope and let go of some coping mechanisms I will no longer need. I just cannot wait - I feel like I've been let out of prison, after years of hard labor, won the Trifecta, and the Lotto, all at once! Science is astounding and wonderful - This will truly be a magical and life-changing moment for me!!

12 years ago

At 21:45 the professional explains '...we only do the research on babies that actually, clinically need a blood test" - then they go ahead and prick a full-term baby with a prick-test needle thingie! At 32:20 another professional doing pretty-much the same thing but with students i.e. adults it's referred to as 'torture'! Hmmmnnn.... The ethics of these 'professionals' must surely be brought into question?

I might add that cranial CAT scans, MRI etc. expose the subject to massive levels of radiation! A single scan doses a subject with the equivalent of 4000 dental X-rays or more! It's no wonder that's not what the baby received - only the hapless students!

When radiation enters the body, it stays - it's permanent! The only safe dose of radiation is ZERO!

I myself, have had radial tunnel syndrome in both arms for six years and I seem to be stuck at a lingering low-level pain and might well have 'pain pathways reprogramming' too, 'cept when my physio gave me the news saying I had something like 'phamtom limb syndrome... you know, like when a soldier loses a limb but might still feel an itch in the missing limb' I felt well-patronised to say the least!

12 years ago

I was diagnosed with RA at the age of 13, I am now 44 and offer myself as a test subject for any and all pain trials or anything usful to humanity. I have always had a high pain tolerance, broken bones without knowing it, my left foot, for example, but now suffer unimaginable pain throughout my entire body becasue of the RA worsening and the degenerating disk disease. I have days when I'm imobile because of this, and life becomes very unimportatn as it is a most significant hurdle to survive until I am once again mobile and functioning. I would gladly and willingly place myself under any scientific research as a 'guinea pig' and be very gratedful in being allowed to help find an end of this for other's like myself.

12 years ago

I have suffered with Cluster Headaches or the suicide headache for about five years now, it's the worst pain I have ever felt. I can get up to four attacks a day and each headache can last up to a couple of hours. I have been through most treatments but these medication are mostly for other illnesses, anti-epileltics, anit-migrane dures and even anti-mania drugs. I am on oxygen therapy now which doesn't help that much either. It's very true that your anxiety levels really do effect the leval of pain you will feel. I have four doctors, a pain specialist, a neurologist, my normal GP and the odd person I get sent to to try out a new treatment. Most people dont have a clue what a Cluster Headache even is but the nick name the suicide headache should give you an idea of how painfull they are.

12 years ago

Just a thought, if pain is essentially controled by our brain and mood/mental status can vary our perception of it, wouldn't lsd, ibogaine, marijuana and so on help people who have pain problems?

Dont get me wrong I'm not talking about the time while your high and what not, I'm talking about the life changing experiences, better brain function and the perception of our world, ones own body and whole self.

For example as stated in this docu people who suffer from chronic pain have brain tissue damage there fore one needs something that's good for the brain. Brain respond well to canabis (and also to lsd) given the fact (and you can look it up) that the molecules of both marijuana and lsd (and probably some other illegal drug) fit so well in the neurons of the brain hence it's healthy, and becouse it's natural chanses are it won't kill you or make you a vegetable.

What I'm trying to say here is healthy brain + open consciousness = less chronic pain/easier control over normal pain.

12 years ago

Interesting doc for sure. I was born with a very high pain tolerance (burned, tazed and pepper sprayed to little avail), though I have much empathy to those who experience chronic pain, and the poor man who had to remove his own limb. =/
It's important to remember that these individuals who are numb to physical pain still experience mental anguish.
Though can't really help someone with a standard busy life, the Buddha made clear with the four arhant truths that cessation of suffering (not just of physical pain but of all mental anguish) is possible through very, very rigorous meditation. Tamed and sharpened concentration blooms the ability to 'choose' what the conscious mind experiences. To impress into the mind new filters (and remove old ones) pertaining to which of the millions of bits of info gets filtered into the tiny slit of a conscious mind (250ish-350ish bits, I have read a few differing claims to this exact number -regardless it's relatively small!)

*thinks this new comment system is going to way cut down on the number of comments*

12 years ago

That is brutal that the guy had to cut his arm off, reminds me of my stupid friend Tim who got mad at his sister and tried to cut his own arm off to "beat his sister to death with it" he got to the bone and passed out tho.

12 years ago

Interesting doc. especially about rewiring the motor cortex.

12 years ago

I can wholly relate to Rebecas response to the pain relief. I suffer from Tinnitus, if it was suddenly made silent, even for a couple minutes with the possibility that more treatments could make it go away for good, I would probably go to tears.

12 years ago

Keep the Horizon docs coming! I love this documentary series. Dispatches and Cutting Edge are two other series you might want to look into.

12 years ago

Great doc.
And I really do like the new commenting system. :)

12 years ago

Hehehe was arguing with some interesting individuals about a quack doc on here regarding cancer cures - luddites crying about the mystical and numinous world of inner pain, and how modern medicine cant quantify or deal with it.

Enjoy your education.